1. The social aspect of marriage is the focus of the McGowan piece.
· [clip from Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives]
Group discussion. Three options to discuss:
· Marriage is better than committed cohabitation.
· Committed cohabitation is better than marriage.
· For some people marriage is better; for some, committed cohabitation.
· McGowan is comparing two possible situations: A committed cohabitation—of course they aren’t usually all that committed as we learn from the statistics that half of them last 1.3 years or less—and a marriage. Which should one go for? What is McGowan’s main reason for thinking marriage to be the better choice?
· McGowan locates this reason in our weakness. We seek permanence—she is not debating the difference between uncommitted cohabitation and marriage, but she is assuming that permanence is something one wants for the relationship. But we are very weak. “It is precisely because we are so likely to give it up that we must promise—at the outset, when everything is wonderful—that we are in it for life.” Marriage goes beyond us—McGowan mentions children as an example—and the permanence of it also goes beyond our abilities. We need help.
· She then notes that the fragility of marriage is why the prevalence of divorce is a bad thing. Married couples can be threatened by the divorces of their friends. Note the hostility with which Judy takes the news about the divorce of Jack and Sally. Judy feels obviously threatened by her friends divorcing.
· By the end of the movie, we see this isn’t some irrational feeling. For, Judy and Gabe divorce at the end of the movie, while Jack and Sally are back together. Were Jack and Sally a bad example to Judy and Gabe? Did their example contribute to their eventual break-up? We are not told.
· McGowan, though, has a more significant concern about divorce. She says that widespread divorce “erodes the concept of the permanence of marriage.” The word “marriage” starts to mean something else—a union until someone better comes around, say, or a union until one falls out of love, or a union until trouble comes. None of these things are really marriage. And with this misuse of the word “marriage”, it becomes harder to actually marry for the couples that want the kind of commitment that marriage involves. It is harder, because it involves making a commitment in one’s own wedding vows which is a more real commitment than that which other people make through their marriage vows.
· McGowan’s friend Smita says that if you need marriage, your relationship wasn’t strong enough to start off with. If it were strong enough, then you wouldn’t need the formal structure of marriage as a crutch.
o Really? The statistics on how long cohabitating couples stay together are bleak. Admittedly, most of them may not make the sort of commitment Smita talks about.
o Is it not possible that a relationship once was strong, and then on the winds of fortune became weak, due to sickness, money problems, etc.? The initial feeling of infatuation is likely to eventually wear off. Certainly, even if it doesn’t actually wear off, it isn’t there 100% of the time.
o Smita seems to believe that if you have a sufficiently good relationship at the start, you will continue in it for the rest of your life. Is this so?
o Compare the doctrine that a few Protestants in the U.S. have: “Once saved, always saved.” The doctrine says that if you’ve once accepted Jesus, then you are guaranteed a place in heaven—you aren’t going to fall off the path of following Jesus. If you do something really bad, say commit adultery, then that means you never really accepted Jesus in the first place.
o Smita, likewise, is saying that if your relationship goes sour, then it was never really good to begin with. But people do change, for the better and for the worse. People have free will. They can set themselves on one path—and then change.
o Of course you can’t disprove Smita’s view in this way. She will always be able to say: Well, something was lacking in the relationship at first. But what reason will she have for saying that?
2. Common sense says that practice makes one better. By cohabitating with someone prior to marrying one should be able to get better at marriage. Moreover, the cohabitation is a kind of trial marriage, and so should help to weed out couples who are “incompatible”, thus ensuring that those that progress to marriage will be more successful. This is all extremely plausible.